James Burke

James BurkeToday, the great journalist and sort of historian of science James Burke is 78. When I was young, I was mad for his two series Connections and The Day the Universe Changed. The latter series was on when I was a physics undergraduate and it really fed my excitement for science and all that jazz. The Connection series does get to the heart of what he does. He combines disparate elements and connects them — often in ways that would make a real historian cringe. Add to this a lot of humor and you end up with an enjoyable and educational bit of television.

Since that time, he’s continued to do much the same thing. In between those two series, he did The Real Thing. In six half-hour episodes, he discussed the nature of perception. You can currently see the whole thing on YouTube, although the copy is just terrible. And in the 1990s, he produces the 20-part Connections 2 and the 10-part Connections 3. He seems to be largely retired at this point.

I can’t find any of the two series he’s known for online. This is probably because they are still big moneymakers for the BBC. But it looks like all of Connections 3 is online. So here is episode 5: “Life Is No Picnic.” I haven’t watched the whole thing, but it is classic Burke. It’s an interesting journey, but it isn’t clear that it means anything. However, it is interesting to know that American soldiers using instant coffee in World War II was the start of it taking off in general use.

Happy birthday James Burke!

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